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The University of Utah radio presents music and other four letter words. Here is your host associate professor of music at the University of Utah Paul bhedam. We have been in some kind of spiritual disarray for a while the retreat from all of the paucity of modern experience. Some seem to have found a kind of resignation which they are pleased to call transcendence and some have found a retreat to a childhood which seems more like Longfellow's backward turn backward no time in the fly to make me a child again just for tonight sort of thing. Not at all. Under Blakey and you of coming into touch again with ideal childhood but merely a kind of wallowing in nostalgia however beautiful
However memorably and aesthetically that is accomplished as in the case save the music of rebel. Some go other in fun tile routes and they are called Freud in hand and well somewhere along that dark path find whatever symbol pleases you suppose that they maybe even touch on the periphery of God or something. Ultimate I cannot speak for that school nowadays though I understand that there is some minor confusion among the disciples of Sigmund Freud. There were other ways in this century that people chose to retreat. I think maybe though that for today we could we could stay with that wonderful man who is contemporary At least with Mo He sobbed as I'm glad to see and who was though he didn't always admit it often
influenced by them musically at any rate. This is I think God should Tal source the beginning of this century Chatah was decided on the operatic route having exhausted as he's supposed to of the limits and possibilities of tone poem. So not too many people had been impressed with the profundity of Strauss's tone poems that is the special people the ones who were really the ones who knew what new chip was all about had only contempt as they still do for Strauss's musical allusions to Xhosa pockets to stop till oil and Spiegel seemed more like the game for him because it was short and it didn't sort of tax the mind and the soul and it could give him chance for some witty. Musical invention that Strauss for whatever reason seemed pertinent to him moved in the direction of more explicit programme and decided to give
himself up altogether to the writing of opera for a while. These operas of course needed a timely name. I suppose the theme itself was less significant to them and the mood. And for a while he seemed himself and some confusion about what he might do and where he might go since his earlier operas had not seized the stage and and commanded any particular attention in Europe or elsewhere in the world. 1945 However he came across. German translation of a French play had been written by an Irishman. And it seemed to him to have the makings of something for him. Richard Strauss says I doubt that Strauss thought about all of the potentialities of this script.
This libretto as it plainly turned up that is what kinds of meaning it might have and I think it probably was impossible for him to know that it would have any kind of audience but he he liked did to do a daring thing a sensational thing a grotesque thing bloody Freud and demented 6 sick things some would say are a treat. If not in the direction of beauty at least in the direction of some kind of a Frank ness on the story. As you probably would have been to find since about eighteen eighty five by resident psycho analysts in Vienna in order I guess really to appreciate what Strauss had to work with it's necessary to know something about what Oscar Wilde had in mind. When he set out to write his play. For one thing he had Sarah Bernhardt in mind and he was and was not averse to the idea of playing Solomon until of course Oscar found himself
imprisoned on a charge or two. And Sourav decided that she didn't want to be in that man's play. After all reading the preface to Salome was an enlightening experience and I confess I do not know if anyone has ever carried out the express wishes of Oscar Wilde and production of this play. In order to make the for want of a better word for idea and point more clear in this century and somehow more dramatic more meaningful and and and to achieve something of the shock character of some good theatre. The story has been seized from the New Testament. Most take it from some sacred canon. Find some people there that you can look at very closely very personally at an every day level and see that they are not so removed from us in experience as we would like to think. Why salomé
is the daughter of her RO D s. Not named in the New Testament but named by tradition. About the only thing that anyone remembers of her is that she was said to have danced for her stepfather on a certain state occasion and he was pleased with the effect which her dance produced and promised her that she could have whatever she wanted. I think the Bible suggests that at her mother's instigation she asked for the head of John the Baptist as a prize for her terpsichorean and 10 minutes. Which makes her a dutiful child indeed and with no particular axe to grind. That is she was a mama's dupe. She says to her stepfather give me John's head he pales but I cannot go back in public on one of the promises that he has made and so John the Baptist is beheaded at
some risk possibly to Herod but as it turned out no great risk. So the Bible tells the story fairly quickly. You know John the Baptist moved into town from his life on the desert embarrassed the pseudo royal family that has money and lined her odious particularly was offended by him wanted him out of the way. And by this means manages through her daughter to achieve her own ends. Add to that Oscar Wilde added a lot of things. For one thing he liked to believe that salomé. Apparently he had more than a casual interest in John the Baptist and that she was maybe an oversexed. Problematic teen age group of unusual and tend to mind who was Miss sought after by every Dilla tone to from Damascus to Moab.
That she might like Carmen say are a scummy you know be bored by the long line of potential suitors or persons that she could go to bed with. But they were all pleasant. They were all rich they all vied with one another for her favors. She had more things to wear than she could possibly use. She had more promises than could ever be fulfilled. But suddenly into her can came the most masculine experience that she had ever had and almost unclad men from the desert of fully 30 with a great growth of beard. Who stands in the market place just outside the breakfast nook shouting such colorful words as adultery in this and. And things which probably she was knowledgeable about but hadn't heard bandied about so publicly and so flagrantly before John the Baptist and therefore becomes extremely
interesting to the Solow Mase as Don Jose saying Carmen is interesting to Carmen because he seems in act one the only person who is not affected by her. The one person in the vicinity that she can't have because his heart is elsewhere. This makes him a challenge and it also it also makes the Carmine's in the cell a maze resort to whatever Wiles are still possible to them in order to achieve whatever it is that they think they want. Well here is selling me. Confronted with a man who from you has been told that he cannot drink wine and he can't have any truck with women and that his special calling is to be a sort of mordent critic of society. Why she wants him. Therefore she wants him for many reasons not only because he is not half a bull. Not only because he is attractive not only because he's the right eggs not only because he is hairy not only because he isn't clad but because she too suffers from a disease which nowadays has
become a little more explicit in the society and a little more clearly defined I suppose than it was in the two hundred and five she was a necrophiliac and that is like many of us when we were children she likes she likes to play with the idea of death and is not repelled by dead things is indeed attracted to them although she has no way of knowing that very well at the outset of Oscar Wilde's play or indeed of Strauss's opera. I remember in my own childhood that was something like. Like the thrill. The quiet chemistry and the thrill of squashing caterpillars on the sidewalks and a kind of sensuous reaction to color and texture. Some other little kids pull wings off flies stick pins and butterflies. Some faculty committees have a more refined way of doing in other
people by and by reputation. I guess the length of the sophistications by which we kill one another these days and play with the remains is extraordinary. But we do. And it is all in some sense according to some viewers and critics of our society necrophiliac Sullivan is determined to have John the Baptist any way that she can. And at some point in her pursuit of him it becomes clear to her that she can have whatever is the maximum. Orgasmic experience. Whether he is alive or dead and whether she has it with all of him or part of him. So while the play turns into a bizarre account where we are permitted to see a girl in the throes of a certain kind of psychic disorder in which
she does the dance and asks for the prize not because her mother puts her up to it but because she has her own great personal yen after it. God finds herself in the middle of the spectators with the head of John the Baptist yet more bleeding matted with perspiration the hair eyes looking up at her and the comments as a dead sea of death which is in many ways an uncanny one she says strange things to the head of John. Your head is like a ripe fruit she says out of which I yearned to take a bite which she spares us the moment but otherwise embraces him in full view of her stepfather's guests. At which point we are led to believe that her sexual excitement has such a pitch that she has. In every way achieved whatever it was she had in mind to do had John been alive and had crept
secretly into her bed chamber and the two of them had sort of lived through Romeo and Juliet at three. She kisses him. It is a moment of triumph. It is in fact musically as well as theatrically orgasmic. She is too much for poor dead to watch since he has his own lecherous interest in her anyway. And besides in order to bring the opera to a summary conclusion Strauss and I think Oscar Wilde and his play decided that it's time for some guards to rush in and crush her to death a little like me and my caterpillars I guess. It's a slow read it's colorful it's a sexual it's symbolic. Some people see and solemn as dance of death being not unlike the whole of the in the hops who are higher in love with a dead or a dying thing at least and moving around to bittersweet waltzes of Johann Strauss and Fritz Kreisler
and knowing all the time that they were not unlike those people at the time of the French revolution whose dances on me were different and were called minuets Oscar Wilde had even had some interesting. Doesn't the sort of attachments to the production of his play. But as he said everything should be done in yellow and purple or shades thereof only that great pots the kind of pots that one would bury Ali Baba in his forty thieves and should be set up between the spectators and the stage and that they should belch great fumes of incense so the stage was not completely visible. Therefore whatever action was going on behind the clouds of incense would be mostly imagined by the people in the audience and whatever they thought was happening back there on the basis of words they heard would be much worse than anything he could possibly portray to since it was meant for a small theater and people would come early and the exigent would be
used up by the burning incense over a long period of time presumably the mixture of the crowd perspiration. Little chance for clear breathing. And I come to fusion of thought because there was in perfection a vision would all combine into some kind of ultimately vomitous experience so that I presume if one threw up or two or three in the course of the evening that this would be the last sort of perfect overtone for this kind of production that is that whatever is the rottenness whatever is the decadence whatever is the awfulness that we want to make palpable becomes palpable and actual way that we we we sense the grimness of the occasion the vileness of the smell. And everybody wretches into the aisle and runs out for air somehow
which I suppose is exactly what ghost of Mahler is searching for on his midnight playing the clearer air of some kind of truth to breathe. Because everything has become so dang And so turbulent and so unbearable and so splenetic I suppose is the word the Bowdler used half a century before. Well this is how solemn it ends as Richard Strauss hears it in music and there were plenty of critics who said about just this music that for them at one hearing it represented the ultimate in Putra affection and so. On. Oh that's not beautiful music. But then it's not a beautiful experience.
There is some soprano who shrieks at you and has to sing on an AB normal a high pitch. A word like you'd get a clue. And however one sings it of up. There are some places her own business but stress stress has given her a deliberately difficult and ugly self to try to sort of throw at the audience so that somehow one finds himself scouring inside both eaters and wishing that it were all over or that it were a little prettier or something. And yet I suppose if he stays in the audience in it as if he makes it through this opera which is not after all very long. John as I remember it. Even in the intermountain west in the United States it was possible for some people to make it to the end of a not very long opera. There may be something symptomatic about that too. One stays watching listening
with fascination to something which ordinarily is supposed to repel him but with which at some level who dead flies that level. Freud would insist. I suppose Oscar Wilde would insist and Strauss certainly would agree. May even be sub conscious and that there may be great motivations and great forces and great realities in us which transfix us sometimes and keep us where we do not want to be. Make us do what we do not want to do and raise the question of who we all are then. Well Strauss stayed here for a while and then took that other route that we've already talked about also. This is called by some people neo classic I suppose for our purposes you might as well call it Neo innocent just trying somehow to revive around
19 8 9 10 11 ish something of that classic simplicity that artlessness that sort of uncanny out of it quality of the eighteenth century a return to the generation of the society which which knew no cares knew no problems lived a life of ease and leisure had most of their problems solved for them by other people and therefore could only worry about the femoral emotional entanglements which after all everybody knew didn't mean anything in the end. When Strauss and Hofmannsthal got around to writing Delos and cavalier as a kind of twentieth century attempt to recreate the eighteenth as they said the one thing that became clear to both of them in the course of writing the opera was that there was no way for them as there seems to have been little chance for rebels to recreate them by conscious design.
That's Splendor In The Grass that glory in the flower those happy days of infancy and even the infancy of the race or the artless time of some former societies. But the emotional entanglements are not cameral but they lie close to the center of a of a wide problem so that by the time the opera comes to a conclusion we have been and tend to divert to a lot of other things have happened and many types have been paraded before us. We are presented with a Porsche facing life I guess except in this case it happens to be the elegant and titled noble woman saying to herself as she sees her young teenage adolescent lover going off with a young teenage girl I vowed to myself she says to cherish him in the right way. But I would even love his love for another woman. I certainly didn't think to
myself that it was kind of happened so soon. The majority of things in the world are such that nobody would believe in the HE we're told about them in advance. Only those who experience it believe it and do not know how. There is the book and here am I and there is that strange girl over there. He will be as happy as men understand happiness. And this develops into a trio in which each of these people the boy the girl and the older woman have sentiments which at this moment have something to do with one another. I confess that it all strikes me pretty much like what's his name Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and when and this girl is a woman. No kind of song where the stiff upper lip with advancing age matron type feels the experience final experience somehow is
connected with her or isn't and and the capacity somehow to take it on the chin and go forward. I can't quite feel personally the same way about the mush I learned as opera as about the Countess Rosina and Mozart's Marriage of Figaro. That's partly because of the quality of the music and mostly I think about the quality of the relationship which from the outset in this opera both Strauss and Hoffman style have found it necessary to compromise because there is no innocence. It's left to right. The the was. Was.
This has been music and other four letter words featuring Paul Banham as a professor of music at the University of Utah music another four letter words as a production of University of Utah radio executive director Rex Campbell series director Gene tak. The series is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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Music and other four letter words
Episode Number
The Tarnished Muse
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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